Arts Take Center Stage

A bold new initiative in the arts is designed to develop and promote USC’s role in the Southland’s cultural life.
PEPE ROMERO. The National Repertory Theatre Foundation. The Thelonius Monk Institute. The National Trust for Historic Preservation. The International Arts in Motion Festival.
USC provost Lloyd Armstrong thinks it’s no coincidence that these and many other world-class artists and arts institutions are linking themselves to USC.
“Every civilization is measured by the quality of art it produces, and Los Angeles is fast becoming the world’s yardstick,” he says. “USC is proud to be a central player in this exciting enterprise.”
Backing up that claim is the USC Arts Initiative, an ambitious undertaking launched two years ago by the Provost’s Office and the deans of USC’s arts schools, designed to showcase USC’s role in educating and cultivating Southland artists. The effort, now with nearly $1 million in its budget, has already ushered in a dazzling assortment of concerts, theatrical events, service- and outreach-oriented programming and groundbreaking collaborations with leading cultural institutions, all under the newly minted banner of “USC Arts: World Class. Right at Home.”
A major tangible development, for example, is a new partnership with the National Repertory Theatre Foundation. Since 1979, this august body has presented its National Play Award to the year’s best new, previously unproduced American play. For the first time, though, the competition’s five finalists are also receiving Equity-sanctioned staged readings – which are being produced at USC in early November. School of Theater students are performing in these readings and assisting with technical aspects of the productions.
In another collaboration, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is bringing its flagship event – an annual conference attended by more than 7,500 architects and preservationists – to Los Angeles for the first time in its history, and USC and the University Park/Exposition Park neighborhood is a prominent focus. And in August USC partnered with the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and the county Office of Education to sponsor two week-long arts academies for the children of migrant workers – again, on the University Park Campus.
Other USC Arts Initiative partnerships involve such groups as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Pasadena Playhouse – all of which are scheduling “USC Nights,” featuring the compositions and performances of USC artists. Other outreach efforts have linked USC with the Da Camera Society, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles Opera, the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Museum of Latin American Art, among others.
At the same time, the university continues to live up to the “World Class, Right at Home” promise on its home turf. Hundreds of student and faculty exhibits and performances each year draw tens of thousands of people to USC from around the corner and across the Southland.
The President’s Distinguished Artist Series, launched in 1999, brings to campus – both for performances and master classes – such outstanding guests as then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, the famous Romeros guitar ensemble and jazz legend Wayne Shorter. Upcoming in February: violin virtuoso Isaac Stern, who is celebrating his 80th birthday this year.
Adding to this sense of artistic ferment is the newly established Provost’s Distinguished Writers Series, launched in October with a reading by novelist and USC professor of English T. C. Boyle. Upcoming faculty authors include leadership guru Warren Bennis, poet and novelist Carol Muske-Dukes, sociologist Barry Glassner, playwright Velina Hasu Houston and journalist-historian Jack Langguth.
To promote these and other USC offerings, the Arts Initiative now publishes RSVP: Your Invitation to Arts and Culture at USC, a sleek monthly calendar that reaches 40,000 arts leaders and alumni in Southern California.

ADOPTED IN 1998 as a critical pathway of the 1994 Strategic Plan, the USC Arts Initiative extends and expands what the USC Thornton School of Music, the School of Fine Arts, the School of Architecture, the School of Theatre and the USC Fisher Gallery have been doing for many years: creating a distinctive mix of high-quality educational programs and innovative public presentations. Other Arts Initiative partners include the USC Annenberg School for Communication, the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Gamble House, KUSC-FM, the Pertusati University Bookstore, the School of Cinema-Television and USC Spectrum, the university’s arts and cultural presenting organization.

President’s Distinguished Artist

Quintessential Shorter

Jazz great Wayne Shorter wowed a packed house in Bovard Auditorium on Sept. 8, kicking off the second year of the President’s Distinguished Artist Series. Playing both tenor and soprano sax, Shorter joined a superb quintet including Alex Acuña on percussion, Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, John Patitucci on bass and Brad Mehldau on piano. In a second set, he teamed with the USC Thornton Symphony as principal soloist in a large-scale rendering of four original Shorter compositions – “Angola,” “Orbits,” “Capricorn II” and “Syzygy” – providing a tantalizing preview of a forthcoming recording. “The results,” wrote Los Angeles Times jazz critic Don Heckman, “were extraordinary... lush, well-crafted and communicative, tinged with Impressionistic touches yet flowing with the ease of a small jazz ensemble.”
Described by Jazztimes as “the most influential living jazz composer,” Shorter has broken genre boundaries for four decades, fusing jazz, rock, classical music and electronica in his compositions. He burst into the spotlight in 1964 with Miles Davis’ quintet, playing with such musicians as Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter. Shorter formed a new group, Weather Report, when the Davis group broke up in 1970.
The USC concert was produced in association with USC Spectrum and the USC Thornton School of Music.

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Illustration by Michael Klein/ Shorter photograph by Dan Avila

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